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It should be the easiest thing in the world, but getting your baby to take a bottle will take some practice. Even if your intention is to exclusively breastfeed your baby, there will be times where this just isn’t possible. Maybe you have to go back to work, or it could simply be that your partner wants to be included in feeding times. Whatever the reason, it’s a good idea to get your baby to take a bottle as soon as your milk supply is stable. Some babies take to bottle-feeding very easily and some will struggle. Here we give some tips to help ease the transition from breastfeeding to getting your baby to take a bottle.
When To Introduce The Bottle
Experts suggest waiting until your baby is at least 1 month old and your breastfeeding routine is established. It’s important that your body has been given this time to form a milk-making routine. Your milk supply is stimulated by your baby regularly breastfeeding which may be up to 8-12 times a day. You and your baby should be comfortable with your breastfeeding routine before you get your baby to take a bottle.
By the time your baby is 6-8 weeks old and your body is maintaining a good milk supply, you can introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby. It can be difficult to get a fully breastfed baby to accept a bottle if it is not introduced before 3 months of age, so if you want to bottle-feed don’t wait too long!
If you do have to go back to work, it is recommended that you start bottle-feeding 2 weeks before the date to give both you and your baby time to adjust.
How To Introduce The Bottle
Here are some tips for helping your baby to take a bottle:
- Have someone else give that first feed from the bottle. Don’t be present in the room, but be close by. If there’s a choice between a strange bottle and your breast, it’s pretty obvious which will win. If you have to do the feeding, cover-up your breasts!
- Wait until your baby is showing signs of hunger, but don’t wait until he or she is starving. A hysterical baby is likely to get more upset when a familiar breast isn’t available for comfort.
- Make sure both the bottle and the nipple are warm. A warm nipple will make the bottle more acceptable to your baby.
- Hold your baby upright. This will stop your baby from taking in too much milk at the start of the feed. Avoid letting your baby feed on the bottle lying down as this has been associated with an increase in ear infections.
- Touch the tip of the teat to baby’s top and bottom lips. Gently stroke the lips with the teat and wait for your baby to open their mouth wide before you give them the teat, just like when breastfeeding. Do not push the teat into your baby’s mouth, always let a baby take it for themselves.
- There are different types of bottle teats, so this might be a trial and error period to see which one your baby accepts.
How Much Milk and How Often?
Just like when you breastfeed, you’re baby will tell you when he or she has had enough. You don’t measure your milk when you are breastfeeding, so you don’t really know how much baby is actually drinking. Trust your baby to eat what they are comfortable with, which can be anywhere from 60 to 180ml.
While your baby is still young and only starting to take a bottle you should still feed on demand and not to a schedule. This will come later.
Type of Bottle (Glass vs Plastic)
Traditionally glass baby bottles were the norm, in fact, they were the only type of baby bottle available. However, they were breakable and heavy so when plastic baby bottles came onto the shelves they were adopted immediately and that was the end of glass baby bottles. For a while anyway.
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Later, when studies showed the harmful effects of BPA which was found in plastic baby bottles, glass baby bottles became more attractive. Nowadays glass baby bottles are very sophisticated and have numerous benefits that go above and beyond being BPA free. You can read more about the benefits of glass baby bottles here.
Sterilizing and Safety
There are certain challenges to bottle-feeding, mainly around health, hygiene and keeping bottles and their accessories clean. The following tips may seem like common sense, but it’s a good idea to get into the routine:
- Wash your hands before handling bottles or feeding your baby.
- Wash bottles and nipples/teats with hot, soapy water and rinse well. Some experts recommend that you sterilize all feeding equipment, particularly bottle nipples/teats after every feed.
- If you are using both breastmilk and infant formula during the same feed, it’s best not to mix them in the same bottle. This is simply to avoid wasting breastmilk if your baby does not finish the bottle (if it contains baby formula, then the contents must be discarded at the end of the feed).
Tips to get your baby to take a bottle
If your baby is refusing to take a bottle and only wants to be breastfed it can be frustrating. Make sure you have lots of time and take it slowly during this process. If your baby starts crying and pushes the bottle away, back off, comfort them, and then try again. If you’ve tried offering the bottle and your baby has refused three times, let it go for now. But wait at least five minutes before breastfeeding – that way they won’t associate refusing the bottle with immediate gratification. You don’t want to turn feeding time into a battle!
Some babies take to the bottle without much fuss, but others struggle quite a bit with the transition. If your baby is having a hard time, you can try the following:
- If they suck on a pacifier try using a bottle nipple that is similar.
- Try putting some breast milk on the nipple to encourage sucking to get more.
- Let your baby play with the nipple so they can familiarize themselves with it.
- Try holding your baby in a different position.
- Try different temperatures – it could be your baby prefers their milk slightly warmer or colder than you’ve been giving.
- Offer the bottle at different times. If your baby won’t take the bottle during the day, try offering it during a night time feed or vice versa.
Important things to remember:
Transitioning from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding is a huge developmental step and one that will need time and patience. If you do decide to exclusively bottle feed don’t forget to still make time for that one-on-one physical contact and affection that your baby had from breastfeeding.
Kidspot 2013, From breast to bottle: How to introduce a bottle to your newborn, Kidspot, viewed at 28 Feb 2020, URL
NewBornBaby, How to Introduce a Bottle to your Breastfed Baby, New Born Baby, viewed at 28 Feb 2020, URL
KellyMom 2020, How to bottle feed the breastfed baby, Kelly Mom, viewed at 28 Feb 2020, URL
Dougherty. E, What’s the best way to introduce my baby to a bottle?, Baby Center, viewed at 28 Feb 2020, URL